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Kanye West Is Testing The Business Of Celebrity

Kanye West
Image CreditKenny Sun / Flickr

What on earth was Kanye doing with Julia Fox? 

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Kanye West recently posted and then deleted private text messages with his childrens’ ultra-famous mother, Kim Kardashian West, focused on their parenting disputes. He picked a fight with Billie Eilish in defense of Travis Scott, went after Kim’s new boyfriend Pete Davidson, weighed in through capital letters on social media posts, and then split with his own girlfriend Julia Fox.

Managing Editor Madeline Osburn and Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky break down Kanye’s eventful week below.

Emily Jashinsky: Madeline, there’s so much going on with Kanye West I don’t even know where to begin. It’s equal parts funny and sad, as his melodramas often are, but are we wrong to gawk at this at all? 

I think my big takeaway from decades of Kanye West’s fame, which even predates social media, is that people don’t need their celebrities to be moral purists.

Madeline Osburn:

The cynic in me finds it quite convenient that his latest melodrama is unfolding just weeks ahead of his upcoming album release. Although it’s always a question of whether he will actually release it when he says he will. But the shameless-consumer-of-celebrity-culture part of me is enjoying the gawking. 

We are way beyond celebrities offering any kind of moral compass, but we are absolutely conditioned to expect celebrities to be perfect, publicist-crafted versions of their brand, for good or for bad, and that’s why Kanye’s recent Instagram posts are so jarring. Celebrities are not supposed to hash out their custody battles on Instagram or post personal information like texts with their ex-wife and her boyfriend. 

I won’t speculate on the state of his mental health but plenty of people are, and Kanye called it out a few days ago in a now-deleted post calling it “cheap and dismissive to say I’m off my meds any time I speak up.” I think that’s true and has been my main takeaway from decades of Kanye’s fame, whether it’s befriending Trump or becoming outwardly pro-life, he gets slammed by the media and his peers as “crazy” just because he doesn’t fall in their box for him. 

EJ: There’s probably some truth to your cynical perspective even if it’s just because he’s dealing with and thinking about media more in advance of the album drop. 

We published an interesting argument in December about Adele invading her child’s privacy on her new record by including some personal audio snippets. … It’s obviously not good parenting to actively litigate private matters involving your children on social media. Kanye deleted his bad posts, Adele went through a long and intentional process to include these very personal audio files permanently. I don’t know, I’m obviously inclined to defend Kanye because it’s been interesting to watch him try and be good with everyone against him. 

There’s a quote from Camille Paglia I always go back to. Around the time of the Me Too movement, she wrote, “Expecting the artist to be a good person was a sentimental canard of Victorian moralism.” A lot of great artists would have behaved terribly on social media. This seems to be a challenge in the modern era of commercialized art: When you have an entertainment media industrial complex, how are journalists supposed to cover celebrities without casting judgment, and how are artists supposed to separate their lives and their work from that public space? It’s just not possible, and it’s making pop art really weird. I think Kanye is sort of an exception that proves the rule. 

MO: Contrary to how most of the media has covered him the last week, it’s actually pretty easy to defend Kanye here when he’s claiming to want innately good things like protecting his kids and putting his family back together. Obviously, he’s not going about it in a good way, like threatening Pete Davidson (quite understandable, IMO), but he acknowledged his tactics were wrong and he apologized for it. 

There is a lot more to say about the entertainment media industrial complex, but in short, it’s essentially responsible for all politics and pop culture now, including Trump. I think it’s what Kanye is most frustrated with and why he keeps focusing his attacks on outlets like the Daily Mail and Page Six in his posts. 

The opposite of media judgment, of course, is media cheerleading. We had some disturbing examples of that this week with media outlets pretending it’s totally normal for Van Jones to announce he’s now the “conscious co-parent” of a new baby with a woman “friend.”

EJ: Exactly! And Kim Kardashian’s fame is built intentionally on public exposure of her private life. He married into that and she’s aware of the implications for her kids, which will be fabulously wealthy but also fabulously overexposed. It’s sad all around but perhaps most sad because we’ve created a climate where that can’t be escaped. 

Anyway. What on earth was he doing with Julia Fox? 

MO: Who knows. My uncorroborated, speculative theory is that she was an interesting project for him, and she agreed to it because it was clearly beneficial for her career. She was a new canvas for him in the same way that he influenced Kim’s style and has basically made her into a fashion icon. Fox was on the New York fashion scene before “dating” him but nowhere near as famous as she is now post-breakup. Whatever it was, I wouldn’t recommend trying out a new girlfriend if you’re serious about getting your wife back.

EJ: Or if you’re serious about modeling your faith given Fox’s active disrespect for those values. 

MO: Preach.